If you have an elderly loved one who has recently received a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia, you may soon find yourself filling the role of a caregiver, even if only part-time. This can be a challenging and confusing role to play, and if you have never done it before—or even if you have—there are a few things that can help you cope with the demands of this new role.
Caregiving for Dementia Patients
Remember that you are only one person.
One of the biggest factors that contributes to caregiver burnout is the idea that you are supposed to handle everything your loved one could need. This is simply unrealistic: you are only one person and you still have your own life to live. Don’t feel bad about accepting an offer of help from a friend or family member, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help when you start to feel overwhelmed. Remember, if you get burned out, you can actually cause your elderly loved one to suffer more by virtue of the substandard care you will be providing due to your burnout.
Keep a list of things that you can use help with. This can be as simple as cooking a few meals, running a few errands, or doing the grocery shopping. When someone asks if you need anything, just go to the list and give them a few things they can do. The other person will be happy to contribute, and you will be happy to get some much-needed relief.
Take care of yourself.
On a somewhat related note, don’t push yourself to the point of exhaustion. Being a caregiver is a marathon, not a sprint. If you give 110% from day one you will find yourself quickly reaching the point of burnout. Once that occurs the care you provide your loved one will drop precipitously and you will not be able to do the things that need to be done.
Make it a point to engage in regular times of self-care. This may mean getting someone to watch your loved one while you go get a massage, read a book in a coffee shop, or something else that you find relaxing. Just be sure that you take time off and pace yourself so you can be there for your loved one until the end of this phase of his or her life.
Don’t expect reason or logic from your loved one.
One thing that caregivers experience is frustration at some of the things an elderly loved one suffering from dementia may do. Remember that your loved one’s mental faculties are under siege, and you should not expect that they will always say or do things that make sense. In some ways, you will need to approach your loved one much as you would approach a very young child: be accommodating, accepting, and loving regardless of what he or she says or does.
Don’t try to correct your loved one.
As dementia progresses, a loved one may start to forget things such as the fact that a beloved pet has died. Rather than causing him or her to experience anew the grief of learning that Fido has in fact gone to Doggie Daycare in the Sky, simply smile and nod when he or she asks about the dog. You can even respond, “Oh, Fido is doing great. He is out for a walk right now.”
While you may believe that you should never lie, a white lie to someone suffering from dementia can be an act of mercy.
Conclusion. As a caregiver, your life will change radically. Remember that you cannot do everything, and don’t be afraid to lean on family or friends for help. There are many resources out there, so take some time and see what is available to you.